In The Stillness

“Burnt Norton”, Four Quartets – T.S. Eliot

Time and the bell have buried the day,
The black cloud carries the sun away.
Will the sunflower turn to us, will the clematis
Stray down, bend to us; tendril and spray
Clutch and cling?

.  .  .Chill
Fingers of yew be curled
Down on us? After the kingfisher’s wing
Has answered light to light, and is silent, the light is still
At the still point of the turning world.

Flower Clouds, Odilon Redon:

Love, always

Modern Declaration – Edna St. Vincent Millay

I, having loved ever since I was a child a few things, never
.  . .having wavered
In these affections; never through shyness in the houses of the
.  .  rich or in the presence of clergymen having denied these
.  .  loves;
Never when worked upon by cynics like chiropractors having
.  .  grunted or clicked a vertebra to the discredit of these
.   . loves;
Never when anxious to land a job having diminished them by
.  . a conniving smile; or when befuddled by drink
Jeered at them through heartache or lazily fondled the fingers
.  . of their alert enemies; declare

That I shall love you always.
No matter what party is in power;
No matter what temporarily expedient combination of allied
.  . interest wins the war;
Shall love you always.

Marc Chagall, Lovers under lilies:

chagall-loversunderlilies

Lambent Beauty

Moonrise – D.H. Lawrence

And who has seen the moon, who has not seen
Her rise from out the chamber of the deep,
Flushed and grand and naked, as from the chamber
Of finished bridegroom, seen her rise and throw
Confession of delight upon the wave,
Littering the waves with her own superscription
Of bliss, till all her lambent beauty shakes towards us
Spread out and known at last, and we are sure
That beauty is a thing beyond the grave,
That perfect, bright experience never falls
To nothingness, and time will dim the moon
Sooner than our full consummation here
In this odd life will tarnish or pass away.

Elliott Daingerfield, Moon Rising over Fog Clouds, watercolor. Collection of Metropolitan Museum:

ElliottDaingerfield-MoonRisingFogClouds

Rough Beasts

Well hello there everyone. Happy New Year! My holiday break is almost over and I spent an inordinate bulk of it curled up in bed under the covers, wrestling with anxiety and insomnia. If that strikes you as a symptom of depressive behavior you’d be correct. Sure I could ascribe it to the “holiday blues” syndrome, which I’m told is a legitimate thing, or I could just be honest and acknowledge that I’m prone to this disorder, and have been for some time. So forgive me if I don’t offer a blog post bursting with good cheer, high hopes, and sanguine sentiments for the new year. However, you have my word that I’ll soon shake off this gloom and doom weepy dark cloud, or the “black dog” as Winston Churchill called it.

What’s interesting to me is how fear, anxiety, and disaffection have been potent catalysts for creative expression throughout history. While joyous, uplifting works of art are certainly among the greatest, most memorable of all time (Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” is a prime example), the ominous, and at times alarming, works of expression are compelling in a much different way. And just as memorable.

I’ve stated before on this blog that William Butler Yeats is one of my favorite poets. I’ve featured him here, here, and here and I’m going to feature him again right now. This very well-known Yeats poem is one that I find apropos with regard to the world right now. Here is The Second Coming”:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

I came across an excellent essay in The Paris Review which describes The Second Coming as “the most thoroughly pillaged piece of literature in English”. It discusses the remarkable scope of references to the poem in pop culture and the arts, ranging from rock bands, comic books, artists and writers .. all of whom could not resist appropriating Yeats’s haunting and evocative turns of phrases. Who can blame them? The man was absolutely brilliant. Think about what he communicates with the imagery of  “the falcon cannot hear the falconer”. Here’s a paragraph from the Paris Review piece:

Yeats began writing the poem in January 1919, in the wake of the First World War, the Russian Revolution, and political turmoil in his native Ireland. But the first stanza captures more than just political unrest and violence. Its anxiety concerns the social ills of modernity: the rupture of traditional family and societal structures; the loss of collective religious faith, and with it, the collective sense of purpose; the feeling that the old rules no longer apply and there’s nothing to replace them.

George Frederic Watts, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: The Rider on the Black Horse, 1878:

(c) Walker Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

One Sweet Hour

Lying in Grass, by Hermann Hesse

Is this everything now, the quick delusions of flowers,
And the down colors of the bright summer meadow,
The soft blue spread of heaven, the bees’ song,
Is this everything only a god’s
Groaning dream,
The cry of unconscious powers for deliverance?
The distant line of the mountain,
That beautifully and courageously rests in the blue,
Is this too only a convulsion,
Only the wild strain of fermenting nature,
Only grief, only agony, only meaningless fumbling,
Never resting, never a blessed movement?
No! Leave me alone, you impure dream
Of the world in suffering!
The dance of tiny insects cradles you in an evening radiance,
The bird’s cry cradles you,
A breath of wind cools my forehead
With consolation.
Leave me alone, you unendurably old human grief!
Let it all be pain.
Let it all be suffering, let it be wretched-
But not this one sweet hour in the summer,
And not the fragrance of the red clover,
And not the deep tender pleasure
In my soul.

Winslow Homer, Boys in a Pasture, 1874

Homer-boys-in-a-pasture

Odonata

The Dragon-fly by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Today I saw the dragon-fly
Come from the wells where he did lie.
An inner impulse rent the veil
Of his old husk: from head to tail
Came out clear plates of sapphire mail.
He dried his wings: like gauze they grew;
Thro’ crofts and pastures wet with dew
A living flash of light he flew.

Although this season is inflicting a whopping dose of allergies on us sufferers – not to mention plenty of humidity – summer does its best to compensate for its discomforts with small enchantments. Works for me! Among them are the presence of dragonflies, which have long been my favorite insects, both as living creatures and attractive motifs on decorative objects. On the latter, Louis Comfort Tiffany certainly agreed.

Found on Tumblr, plate taken from ‘The Biology of Dragonflies’ by R. J. Tillyard. Published by Cambridge University Press (1917):

Dragonflyplate

My earliest recollection of seeing a dragonfly was as a young child, on the summer days spent at the farm of my great-great aunt. She had a sprawling, rustic property on the north fork of Long Island, and when my parents drove my brother and I out there for visits in July and August, it provided us born-and-bred city kids with bit of country-living experience. Now I can’t say that I’m a person who is totally comfortable with insects in general. Stingers scare me, and any creepy crawlers of the centipede variety are sworn enemies. I can’t with those things. But the dragonfly is cool, man; the flash of iridescent green or blue color, the huge eyes, the long stick-like abdomen, and those two sets of serious wings. A prehistoric species that has inhabited planet earth since forever, the dragonfly gobbles up mosquitoes and darts, zips, and flits through the sticky summer air … like a boss 🙂

I follow the wonderful Maureen Gibbon on Twitter. She is the author of “Paris Red”a novel about Édouard Manet’s muse Victorine Meurent. Maureen recently posted a tweet of a dragonfly that she was able to photograph perfectly. I loved it:

Dragonflies are most commonly seen near water and wetlands and the surrounding areas. In fact, their larval stage is spent entirely underwater. It is believed that the presence of dragonflies is an indicator of a healthy ecosystem. Sometimes referred to as ‘darning needles” (and easily confused with the similar “damselfly”) dragonflies have carried mythical symbolism throughout civilizations. They’re associated with change, adaptability, and transformation. During their brief life span, they make their presence known with robust behavior of evolutionary dynamism: they hunt their prey while in flight, they migrate, they mate, they use their powerful vision to see at all possible angles except directly behind them, and with their agile flight can fly straight up, straight down, zig-zag, hover in mid-air like a helicopter, or go full blast at up to 38 mph. And they’ve been doing all this for 300 million years. Bow down to odonata anisoptera my friends.

Lotus and Dragonfly by Qi Baishi, 1953:

QiBaishi_lotus_dragonfly

Since keeping a dragonfly as a pet in a cage would be a completely weird and stupid thing to do, I’ve instead collected dragonfly-adorned items over the years to decorate my home. This pretty light-reflecting dragonfly sits among my potted plants in the bay window of my house:

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You can’t see the top, but this ceramic dragonfly piece is actually a bud vase. It’s a family heirloom that might have been accidentally lost if I didn’t rescue it to safety 🙂

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A very special plaque. My Mom purchased it and then hand painted it for me. It’s been hanging on my bedroom closet door for 14 years:

IMG_7027

Still . . .

i carry your heart with me –

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
.  … . . . . . . . . . . . . i fear
no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

— e.e. cummings

Nude from Back on a Background of the Sea, Francis Picabia, 1940:

francis-picabia-nude-from-back-on-a-background-of-the-sea_nude-dos-fond-mer